GREENSBORO, N.C. - With a furious finish, sparked by All-American Blayne Barber's hole-in-one, Auburn's men's golf team qualified on Saturday for the NCAA Championship.
Blayne Barber's hole-in-one was his first in tournament play
Playing the final four holes at 8-under par, the Tigers leapt from seventh to fourth in the NCAA Greensboro Regional. The top five qualified to play for a national championship, starting on May 29 at Riviera Country Club in Palisades, Calif.
“It is just hard to put into words,” said Auburn coach Nick Clinard. “The guys really hung tough and did what they had to do. They just stuck to their gameplan. Blayne Barber, you just can’t say enough about what he did coming down the stretch.”
Barber, who entered the round in third, had his second double bogey of the day at No. 14 to go to 5-over after his ball landed by the pin and spun back off the green and went into the bunker. The Lake City, Fla., junior, who also double bogeyed No. 1, closed out his final four holes with a birdie, hole-in-one, par and birdie.
Barber used a 4-iron from 227 yards on the par-3 16th to record his fourth overall ace, but his first in a tournament.
“It was just struck absolutely perfectly, and it looked good the whole way, and I actually said go in when it was about to hit the green and it rolled and trickled in, and there it was,” said Barber. “The biggest thing that I was very thankful for today was that I was very patient. I was playing great. I had two terrible breaks, and they both resulted in doubles.
“I was 5-over, but I didn’t feel any different than yesterday. I just felt like it wasn’t going my way so I was just extremely patient. The next thing you know I am 1-over after going 4-under on the next four. It’s just golf. It is crazy, and you always just have to hang in there.”
The heroics were far from just Barber, who finished fourth overall at 2-under after a final round 73 for a 214 total.
All-SEC Dominic Bozzelli, who tied for fifth at 1-under 215 after a pair of 70s in the last two rounds, birdied the par 3 16th just ahead of Barber.
“It just pumped you up,” said Bozzelli after witnessing the ace from the 17th tee box. “Actually, I had to make sure that I didn’t get too excited and had to take some deep breaths and focus in on my targets. I was right in the middle of it. After I birdied 16, I looked back and actually saw Blayne make the hole-in-one on 16. You get pretty pumped up. It was awesome out there.
“It feels pretty good. It was a little closer than we wanted on the back nine there, but 15 through 18 was awesome. It was just really fun to be a part of it. Looking back on the disappointment at last year’s Regional, I know how it feels to be on the other side looking in. I am just really happy we were able to pull through and make it in today.”
All-SEC Niclas Carlsson birdied Nos. 16 and 18 during the run to finish with a 1-under 71 and that came after back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 13 and 14. Carlsson finished tied for 16th at 221. Senior All-SEC Will McCurdy birdied the par-5 18th after hitting his drive into a fairway bunker. The Fort Payne, Ala., native had a solid even par 72 after counted rounds of 76 and 78 the first two days to jump from 56h to a tie for 39th.
Even Freshman All-SEC Michael Johnson got in on the act as he eagled No. 18 even though his 6-over 78 was a non-counter on the day. With his eagle, the Tigers were 10-under as a team in the final four holes. The Birmingham native tied for 55th at 230.
“For MJ to eagle 18 and Will to play well and Dom, it is just awesome,” said Barber. “We were out of it with a few holes to go and we finished strong, and we hung in there. We are going to Riviera.”
In a hotly contested regional in which only the top five teams advance to the NCAA Championship, seven teams came into the final round separated by only six shots from third to ninth place. Auburn was in eighth after the first round and moved up to a tie for fourth after 36 holes.
After Barber’s double on the 14th, the Tigers were two shots out of coveted fifth and were finishing on the tougher back side as No. 18 Duke was tied for fifth and finishing on the easier front nine.
Sixth-seeded Liberty led from start to finish as the Flames shot a final round 4-over 292 to finish at 4-over for the tournament, three shots ahead of No. 19 Florida, whose 3-under 285 was the lowest round of the day and edged Auburn’s 286 by a stroke.
Auburn ended up having a seven shot cushion from sixth place Duke (289-881). Lamar finished fourth after a 289-877 while Tulsa rounded out the top five with an even par 288 for an 878 total.
SMU, which was in second after both the first and second rounds, finished in seventh after a 301-883 ahead of No. 9 UNLV (291-888), Indiana (303-894), Texas Tech (306-895), Charlotte (300-907), Louisiana-Lafayette (316-916), Mount St. Mary’s (300-928) and George Washington (306-928).
Campbell’s Vaita Guilluame tied for medalist honors and qualifies for the NCAA Championship as an individual after shooting a 72-213, one shot ahead of Barber. Guillaume advanced with a par in a one hole playoff with SMU’s Matt Schovee. Liberty’s Robert Karlsson finished at 3-under but didn’t participate in the playoff because his team advanced to Riveria.
“We are starting over now and going to have a chance to win a National Championship,” said Clinard. “That is what we recruit for. That is what we practice for, and that’s what we dream about. So, we are looking forward to it.”